Kitchen and food safety tips during cancer treatment

Kitchen and food safety tips during cancer treatment

When you’re going through cancer treatment, you can be more susceptible to infections, including food poisoning. One practical way to reduce your risk is to keep your kitchen clean and sanitized.

“Your immune system can become taxed during cancer treatment, making you more susceptible to illnesses and infections, including foodborne illnesses or food poisoning,” says Corey Tolbert, RD, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont.

Reduce your risk of foodborne illness

Here are some tips to make food preparation safer:

  • Wash your hands often. Wash your hands for at least 15 seconds with warm, soapy water before and after handling food, particularly raw meat and eggs and unwashed produce, and after using the bathroom. Bacteria and viruses can transfer from your hands to your food or vice versa.

  • Some bacteria, such as salmonella, can live on surfaces for hours. Clean and sanitize your countertops, cutting boards and sink with hot, soapy water or food-safe disinfecting spray, especially if these surfaces have been in contact with raw meat, raw eggs or unwashed vegetables and fruit. Don’t forget to sanitize high-contact surfaces like light switches, microwave doors, refrigerator handles, kitchen cabinet knobs, drawer pulls and faucet handles.

  • Replace your kitchen sponge often. Even sanitized sponges can contain bacteria, so it’s best to replace yours often.

  • Wash hand towels regularly. Swap kitchen and dish towels every day or two.

  • Don’t cross-contaminate your food. For example, if you cut chicken breasts, don’t use the same cutting board and knife to chop vegetables.

  • Use a food thermometer to ensure all meals are cooked to the proper temperature. Here are some guidelines:

    • Poultry: 180 degrees

    • Meat: 160 degrees

  • Stir often when microwaving foods.

  • Promptly refrigerate leftovers. When leftovers sit out at room temperature, they can grow illness-causing bacteria.

  • Wash raw fruits and vegetables well. Tolbert recommends a mixture of one-part distilled white vinegar and three parts water. Use this mixture to rinse fruits and vegetables with tougher skin (like avocadoes, apples, cucumbers and lemons). Don’t use the solution on delicate produce like raspberries or strawberries. Rinse a second time with water. Rinse leafy vegetables one leaf at a time.

  • Wash the tops of canned goods before opening them.

  • Toss slimy or moldy produce, food that smells or looks strange, and eggs with cracked shells.

  • Replace your utensil if it touches raw meat or eggs. Use separate utensils for stirring and tasting while cooking.

  • Use a clean plate for cooked meat when grilling.

  • Keep raw meat and ready-to-eat food separate in the fridge. Ideally, store raw meat and poultry on the lowest shelf in the refrigerator.

  • Refrigerate groceries right away; never leave them on the counter or in your car.

By taking a few precautions in the kitchen, you can reduce your risk of food poisoning. If you have questions about food safety or your risk of infection, talk to your oncologist, navigator or dietitian.

Learn more about cancer prevention, wellness and treatment.

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